What is the Relationship Between Stress and Multiple Sclerosis? - dummies

What is the Relationship Between Stress and Multiple Sclerosis?

By Rosalind Kalb, Barbara Giesser, Kathleen Costello

Research suggests that the various types of stress may interact with multiple sclerosis (MS) in different and sometimes contradictory ways. Even though people use the term stress a lot — “I’m so stressed” or “The stress is really getting to me” — they’re actually referring to many different kinds of experiences.

These experiences may range from hassles of daily life, such as misplaced keys, to sudden crises, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of one’s home, to ongoing stresses like financial worries or marital problems.

Not all stresses are alike. Consider the following facts:

  • One study found that life-threatening trauma, such as a missile attack (yes, someone studied that!), may reduce a person’s risk of MS relapses.

  • Other studies suggest that stressful life events may increase the risk of MS relapses.

  • Researchers have concluded that physical trauma, such as car accidents, don’t increase a person’s risk of getting MS or having an MS relapse.

  • A large study found that the death of a person’s child significantly increased his or her risk of developing MS.

In other words, the relationship between stress and MS isn’t at all clear. To make it even more complicated, the research in this area also suggests that the impact of a person’s life stresses depends in large part on his or her coping style and problem-solving skills.

Because MS varies so much from one person to another, and no two people have the same coping mechanisms or resources, no one can really predict how life’s stresses are going to affect you or anyone else. So, rather than worrying about whether the unavoidable stresses of daily life are going to make your MS worse, you can do yourself a big favor by figuring out how to manage those life stresses more comfortably.